21 Dec 2015

Immigration NZ was played - lawyers

8:50 am on 21 December 2015

Lawyers representing two brothers accused of people trafficking say Immigration New Zealand has been taken for a ride by the complainants in the case.

Jaswinder Singh (right) and Satnam Singh (second from left), with two interpreters, at the High Court in Nelson on Monday 9 November.

In the High Court in Nelson, from left, an interpreter, Satnam Singh, another interpreter and Jaswinder Singh Sangha. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Brothers Jaswinder Singh Sangha and Satnam Singh were found not guilty of the charge at the High Court in Nelson yesterday after a six-week long trial.

The case was the first in New Zealand involving charges of people trafficking and stemmed from accusations by 18 complainants that they were brought here from India in 2008 under false pretences.

They had expected to be granted two-year-work permits, not the seven-month permits they ended up with.

However, Jaswinder Singh Sangha's lawyer, Ron Mansfield said the complainants lied about being misled after being told by Immigration New Zealand they would be able to remain in the country if they became witnesses in a trial.

"Once we were able to establish there was a clear motive and that an individual within the Sikh community had counselled them to lodge a complaint which involved making some parts of the complaint up, I have no doubt the jury then had concerns regarding credibility and reliability of those workers and what they were saying in order to remain here."

Satnam Singh's lawyer, Tony Bamford, said the complainants were all told from the beginning they would receive 12-month visas and it was only due to Immigration New Zealand processes that they ended up with seven-month visas.

Mr Bamford said further investigations by Immigration New Zealand may have got to the bottom of what was really behind the allegations.

"If they'd followed through on some of the questions that had been raised about the veracity...of some of the things these workers were saying then they might have formed a slightly different view.

"Obviously we've had to go through a...six-week trial in order to establish a more complete picture of the whole situation."

His client's standing in the small town of Motueka had taken a hit as a result of the charges.

Taken for a ride

Mr Bamford told Morning Report it was clear there was more to the story but that did not come out during Immigration New Zealand's investigation.

"To properly investigate and get in behind some of these stories, Immigration would have had to have gone over to India and interview a lot more people. They didn't.

"My view is that we've all been taken for a ride."

Chief executive of the lobby group Stand Against Slavery, Peter Mihaere, sat through the trial and said he did not accept the witnesses were lying.

But he believed Immigration New Zealand needed to be better resourced to investigate cases such as this.

"These sorts of cases are incredibly complex. The work that was done in India could have been done a little more in-depth and...it would be fair to say that Immigration New Zealand would accept that.

"But when you've only got so many resources you do what you can at the time."

Sangha and a third defendant, Kulwant Singh, were found guilty of 11 counts of supplying false statements to a refugee status officer and will be sentenced on 29 January.

Immigration New Zealand declined to comment ahead of their sentencing.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs